David Knapp loves the Boy Scouts. In fact, he believes that if every young man belonged to a good troop, the world would be a better place. But unfortunately, the Boy Scouts do not accept him. Despite his nearly 50 years of involvement – from a scout in the 1930s to an award-winning volunteer in the 1980s – the active member of First Congregational Church UCC in Guilford, Conn., was kicked out of the organization in 1993 when council executives discovered he is gay. Since then, 86-year-old Knapp has been protesting, picketing, calling, advocating and generally causing a ruckus to see that this policy gets overturned, and he has no intention of stopping until he succeeds.
"I will never give up," he said. "I will fight the Boy Scouts until the day I die. I'm 86, but my mother lived to be 99. Maybe I will live to be 99."
Fortunately, Knapp may not have to wait much longer. The Boy Scouts of America announced that the organization is reconsidering its 35-year ban on gay scouts and leaders, and are expected to announce a decision after a board meeting as early as next week. There are many theories as to why the BSA made this sudden announcement. It could be because some national and local corporate sponsors have pulled donations, or that some high-profile executive board members have publically addressed the discriminatory policy. Or it could be because gay scouts and leaders have garnered media attention and nationwide support, or that overall BSA membership has been steadily declining.
Or it could be because of people like Knapp, who tirelessly and relentlessly fight for equality for all Boy Scouts. In addition to his other efforts, he has submitted countless requests to both local and national BSA councils asking for the policy to be repealed. But after being "stonewalled for 19 years," he and his congregation's Peace and Affirmation Committee finally made a breakthrough. Instead of requesting a full removal of the ban, they drafted a resolution asking for religious and civic groups that sponsor Boy Scout units to be able to choose whether or not to allow gay scouts and leaders. While maybe not the first group to propose such a compromise, it was a different enough approach to get heard by the BSA's Connecticut Yankee Council, which represents 21,000 local BSA members, which then agreed to take the resolution to the BSA's national meeting, where it was heard on the floor in its entirety by 1,600 delegates.
"Instead of asking for a whole loaf, which is what my previous resolutions asked for, we were asking for half a loaf, giving each side what they wanted," Knapp said. "Even though I am totally opposed to that and think it's cruel and outrageous that [the BSA] are allowed to do this, my attempts for 19 years have gone nowhere as far as changing the national policy, so I thought, ‘What do we have to lose?' So I said OK."
In response to the proposed resolution, a BSA executive appointed a committee to conduct a study on the current ban on gays. After the review, the BSA reaffirmed its ban last July, citing that the majority of scout parents and sponsoring organizations did not support openly gay unit leaders.
"When the resolution was turned over to a committee to study it, we knew that was the end," Knapp said. "That killed it."
After everything he has been through, the BSA's announcement that they may reconsider the ban came as a "complete shock" to Knapp. But he thinks this is a reflection of the times, in line with marriage equality successes, the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, the presence of LGBT politicians and church leaders, and newfound public acceptance. What the BSA decides to do from here is still unknown, for at least the next few days. But if Knapp can compromise, after years of fighting, he believes the BSA should compromise too.
"The Boy Scouts have a serious problem, which is obviously becoming more and more serious," Knapp said. "If you can find a solution that pleases both sides, why wouldn't you take it?"